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  • Jason Hahr

"What is Inclusion?" -- One Self-Advocate's Quest to Appear on a TV Game Show

While working for Florida Self-Advocacy Central, I've been able to discuss a wide variety of disability-related issues in the media ranging from healthcare and legislative issues to the portrayal of people with disabilities. Today’s article will indeed discuss disability on television but from a different viewpoint.

Up until now, I've mostly written about portrayals of individuals with disabilities by able-bodied actors in television and film. However, with the recent uptick in popularity of game shows, I have the following questions for individuals with disabilities. "With all the progress that’s been made in including actors with disabilities in popular media, why hasn’t this transcended to game shows?" And then, "With the level of intelligence and large personalities within the disability community, why haven’t we harnessed the power of television game shows to show the rest of society what people with disabilities are really like--rather than letting the able-bodied community, for the most part without consulting us, depict their interpretation of what having a disability looks like?"

Before those who are reading this jump down my throat and say, “but there are some instances where disabled people have been consulted,” let me make it clear that I am not making a blanket statement about all able-bodied individuals. Rather, I am saying that disabled people need to continue to proactively advocate and, perhaps, be louder and more forceful about how they are portrayed in media, particularly in game shows.

I am not going to sit here and just preach to anyone reading this article; instead, I am going to put action behind my words. The best way I can push for the change I am advocating for in television game shows is by trying to appear on one myself. You may be asking, “What game show did you have in mind?” I can think of one that would fit perfectly to accomplish the goals of showing that people with disabilities are intelligent and give us the opportunity to show the world that we are much more than our individual diagnoses. This game show is none other than the extremely popular “Jeopardy.”

"Jeopardy" not only tests one’s knowledge, but if you are a loyal viewer of the show as I am, you will have noticed that the most compelling contestants are those who let their personalities show. There have been many “super champions,” but those that are memorable, such as Amy Snyder, James Holzhauer, and Ken Jennings, seem to have made the show an extension of themselves.

Another question some might have, if you follow the show, is “The show seems ‘ablest' -- are you sure that they will accommodate people with disabilities if one tries out?” I can simply answer that question by saying that this is where true advocacy comes into play. If people with disabilities don’t attempt to become game show contestants more often there will be no need for shows to make changes, whether that be the addition of accommodations for gameplay without compromising the integrity of the game, or changes to the audition process.

Like I said earlier, I am a man of action. I have already reached out to the producers of “Jeopardy” and they have agreed to allow me to take a phone version of the screening test rather than completing the online version. I asked them for this accommodation because you are only given 15 seconds to read and type your answers in the 30-question online version. Due to my vision I have to have someone read things I cannot enlarge. On top of that, because of my lack of dexterity, I would either have to dictate my responses or use voice recognition software. I would have no problem using voice recognition software; however, due to the way the test is coded the voice recognition software does not work on the website.

I realize that the audition process is not the only area where I will need accommodations and I already devised a plan with a dear friend of mine to reach out to a tech company and ask them if they will sponsor and help me build a work-around that will allow me to buzz in with the same speed as my opponents. I am not saying that the accommodations I have already received and am planning to seek out in the future will guarantee my appearance on the show. I know that I will have to put in the work and do a great deal of studying. But I would be doing a disservice to all those in my situation who love trivia and have not yet found a way to advocate for themselves, either because they were not sure how to start or they need a boost of confidence, if I did not try.

It is our responsibility as advocates to level the playing field for people with disabilities wherever there is a need for such. Some of you who are reading this may not see the importance of getting on a game show and how it may change things for people with disabilities in the long run. In response to that objection I urge you to remember the disability rights slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us.”


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